This summer, the terraces are covered in wild carrot – Daucus carota or Bishop’s Lace, Queen Anne’s Lace. This is the original plant from which our familiar domesticated carrots are descended. Slightly ironic then that it should grow in such profusion here when I’ve yet to harvest a decent crop of carrots, but that’s down to the voles getting in there before me rather than any failure of the plants to grow.
In the process of investigating the properties of wild carrot, I discovered some recipes for a jelly made with it. (I try to learn all I can about the wild plants which appear here – dismissing them as ‘weeds’ just because I didn’t plant them seems little short of wilful disregard of a natural treasury bordering on insanity.) The jelly sounded intriguing. I had to give it a try.
The plant is easily identified. The Apiaceae (formerly Umbellifereae) can be tricky because family members have similar appearances and some are deadly poisonous, but wild carrot is very distinctive and not easily confused if you know what you’re looking for. It grows in pastures, meadows, roadsides and generally drier places than many other members of its family. It’s not a large plant, generally around half a metre tall, and its stems and leaves are quite fine and delicate in appearance. Rubbing the stems and leaves, which have fine hairs, releases the characteristic, slightly resinous, carroty smell.
The leaves are tri-pinnate with an overall triangular shape, very similar to cultivated carrots.
The lower bracts beneath the flower umbels, seen here clearly on an immature flower head, are three-forked.
As the flowers open, they can have a pinkish hue.
The flower umbel is flat, lace-like and frequently (though not always) has a dark red to purplish brown spot in the centre which looks almost like a bug sitting on the flower. (It’s present in this flower, but not very distinctive.) Each floret within the umbel has around 20 flower heads.
As flowers become seed heads, they curl around the centre a bit like a bird’s nest – another of its common names – and eventually drop off.
I read through a few recipes for the jelly and all used commercial pectin. I didn’t want to do that, so looked around the quinta for the best natural sources of pectin. The quinces weren’t yet fully ripe, but there were enough getting that way that I could use them. Quince, of course, has a distinctive flavour of its own, but I figured this might work well with the flavour of the wild carrot. It would be quince and wild carrot jelly as opposed to pure wild carrot jelly, but good enough.
The infusion of wild carrot flowers …
Add a generous 1 litre of boiling water to a well-packed 500ml of wild carrot flowerheads, snipped off at the base of the florets and put in a bowl. Cover and let stand until cool. Strain. The infusion goes a pinkish purple colour.
The jelly base …
Wash, quarter and roughly chop 800g quinces, leaving skins and cores intact. Tie the quince pieces and 1 teaspoonful of pink peppercorns in a jelly bag. Put in a saucepan and add water to cover. Boil until the quinces are soft and the water has turned a nice pink colour, adding more water as necessary to keep quinces just covered. Remove the jelly bag. You should end up with around 1 litre of juice.
Combine the quince juice with the wild carrot flower infusion ( = 2 litres) and the juice of 1 lemon. Shave the rind off the lemon and tie in a piece of muslin to cook in the jelly. Add an equal volume of sugar to the volume of fruit juice and boil until setting point. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.
For a jelly made from pink (quince) and pinkish purple (wild carrot) juices, the jelly has surprisingly strong red tones. The dominant flavour is quince, but the wild carrot comes in on the aftertaste with the peppercorns and they complement each other well. Next time I think I would like to taste more of the wild carrot and will have to find a gelling agent with less taste to it – perhaps chia seeds would be something to try.